Long Beach Island officials are upset that the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce is not doing enough to market the island and are working to start their own chamber.
Officials who are competing against other shore communities preparing for summer following Hurricane Sandy said they asked the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce earlier this year to help market Long Beach Island through a commercial, but they weren’t interested.
“We’re getting our butts kicked by Ocean City and other places down south. They’ve got a billboard up by Eagles stadium and a lot of commercials out there,” said Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck.
In February, a giant billboard that cost $15,000 per month greeted motorists at the Lincoln Tunnel as they crossed into New Jersey, letting them know that Sea Isle City is ready for summer. Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio said the images of the Jet Star roller coaster in the ocean off Seaside Heights made people think that was the landscape of the entire coast following Hurricane Sandy.
The billboard is being paid for by the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization, and is part of a partnership between the business community, tourism commission and the city.
Huelsenbeck said he feels bad for communities in northern Ocean County that have storm damage. But like Desiderio, he believes Long Beach Island has been lumped in with shore destinations such as Seaside Heights and Manataloking, that are still working to recover for the upcoming season.
“Their infrastructure up there is gone and ours isn’t. We’re ready,” Huelsenbeck said. “But at some point it will all be too little too late because people are going to have made their plans for the summer already.”
When their requests at the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce were not satisfied, Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini, other local officials and businesses decided it was time to start their own chamber. Mancini said the new nonprofit organization will be called the Long Beach Island Chamber of Commerce and has just recently received corporation approval.
“I think the way the chamber is now structured, they can’t deviate from their budget plans for the year. This other chamber will have more flexibility, and flexibility is a good thing,” Huelsenbeck said.
Long Beach Island mayors or their designees from each of the six municipalities will have a seat on the board of directors of the new chamber, Mancini said.
“The new chamber will not have a building or much overhead, and we will focus on building a digital presence and getting the word out through social media outlets,” Mancini said.
In early January, Mancini said, a group of business owners and officials gathered to discuss approaching the business climate for the summer season. The group was trying to devise a plan to tackle misconceptions from Hurricane Sandy and start advertising.
“Long Beach Township pledged $25,000 towards an advertising campaign and local businesses also threw in $25,000, and then we asked the chamber to pledge $25,000 and they turned us down. They said it wasn’t in their budget for this year,” Mancini said.
Mancini said a television producer donated his services to make a commercial for Long Beach Island and only air time would have to be purchased.
Chris Schwab, president of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, said the organization requested contact information for the chamber’s visitors’ center be included in the commercial, but they were told no.
Schwab said the chamber, whose budget is already decided for the year, has launched a marketing plan to promote the region that includes the website wearelbi.com. A billboard advertising the region will be unveiled Thursday near the George Washington Bridge in New York, Schwab said. So far the chamber has spent about $15,000 on its marketing plan.
Other municipalities, such as Sea Isle and Ocean cities, have their own chambers of commerce that are funded by the towns, while the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce doesn’t receive any funding from Long Beach Island’s six municipalities.
“Places like Wildwood and Ocean City have a certain group of people who go there all the time. But there is a certain clientele that will always go to LBI. Ninety percent of these businesses here will be back and the rentals will be back, too,” said Ocean County Freeholder Vicari.
As shore towns push to prepare for the summer season, Vicari said he is working with other elected officials to make sure Ocean County gets its fair share of $25 million in tourism funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the $1.8 billion in Hurricane Sandy funding for the state.
Federal funding will be used for advertising outside the state that will focus on Long Beach Island and the northern barrier islands in Ocean County.
The majority of the funding at the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce comes from membership dues and proceeds from the annual Chowderfest sponsored by the organization.
“The Chowderfest is the next big event at the end of the season, but if the island doesn’t have a good summer, Chowderfest is not going to bail us out,” Huelsenbeck said.
Lori Pepenella, destination marketing director for the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, said there is no sustainable funding for the chamber or Long Beach Island in general.
The chamber is a 501-C6 organization and is not charitable or tax-deductible. Any money that is included on a 990 form in a reserve is not public funds and was raised privately, Pepenella said.
Some of that money goes toward operating expenses and maintenance of the chamber building, Pepenella said.
“According to their 990, the chamber has $500,000 that is sitting in their account and they wouldn’t cough up $25,000 to get advertising for the island to get off the ground after the storm,” Mancini said.
But Schwab said this money is not disposable cash.
“To say that we have $500,000 in cash that is available is not accurate,” Schwab said.
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